NBA

'Killer' Russell steps up in LeBron's absence, guides Lakers past Bucks

By Sports Desk March 09, 2024

D'Angelo Russell described himself as a "killer" after his career-best 44-point haul lifted the Los Angeles Lakers to a dramatic victory over the Milwaukee Bucks, as LeBron James sat out another game due to ankle discomfort. 

James missed his ninth game of the season on Friday as he continues to battle the niggling injury, but the Lakers overcame his absence with a stirring 123-122 win at Crypto.com Arena.

The Bucks held a one-point lead with 39 seconds remaining, with Giannis Antetokounmpo recording 34 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists while Damian Lillard backed him up with 28 points.

However, Russell scored 21 of his points in the fourth quarter, including the go-ahead jumper with 5.9 seconds remaining on the clock, to put the hosts up one.

There was more drama to come in the dying moments as Spencer Dinwiddie blocked Lillard's attempted buzzer-beater to preserve the win, improving the Lakers to 35-30.

Russell's nine 3-pointers were a joint-career best, while he also dished out nine assists. Speaking after the win, the 28-year-old said he always had confidence in his ability to deliver in clutch moments. 

"On the floor, I've always felt like I was capable of doing things. Getting hot makes it a little more exciting," Russell said. 

"Off the floor, obviously you all know what I've been through. Public humiliation has done nothing but mould me into the killer that you all see today. 

"I never lack confidence. I never fear confrontation. I want all the smoke. I just feel confident in what I bring to the basketball game, so whatever room I walk in, I'm confident."

Lakers team-mate Austin Reaves – who added 18 points – said: "D-Lo just stepped up and won us the game, and obviously with Spence with the defense on that last possession. 

"Just seeing D-Lo take over the game, I constantly kept telling him in timeouts, 'take us home'."

While the victory was a crucial one for the Lakers' playoff chances, the Bucks sit third in the Eastern Conference with a 41-23 record, and coach Doc Rivers knows the defeat will have little impact on their long-term ambitions.

He does, however, hope it serves as part of a learning curve, saying: "You want to win all these games, but that's the stuff that we're going to keep doing more and more until it becomes us. 

"There was a stretch where Damian and Giannis were playing a two-man game, and it was unstoppable. We want to encourage that more and more.

"It is a missed opportunity, but if we had won, that doesn't change anything. We're trying to go and get better. 

"I thought we had the game in our hands, and we let it go. That happens, and it'll happen again, and we'll win some the other way, too."

The Lakers are back in action against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Crypto.com Arena on Sunday, while the Bucks remain in Los Angeles to face the Clippers on the same day. 

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